What do TV critics do when they’re not watching TV? They’re never not watching TV. We don’t know how to read books, after all (what’s reading?), so we watch and watch and watch until our eyeballs droop from their sockets.
But lest you take pity, consider: In these lonely hours of trolling the outer reaches of the TV solar system — the Kuiper belt of TV shows, if you will — we discover great stuff, and awful stuff. Also great, awful stuff.
It’s also stuff you’ve never heard of.
These are shows designed for the most specific demographics imaginable — teen boys who like fish (of the tank variety), for example. They make no “best of” lists, because they’re outliers, oddballs or punks. But they’re mostly smart, and they all thrive in their anonymity.
And without further chatter, here’s my list of the best unknown TV shows of 2015:
10. ThingamaBob (H2). Bob Partington is a wild-haired inventor who lives in Brooklyn, where everyone has their own TV show, and so — naturally — must Bob. Someone hands him a box of junk from which he must construct a fully functioning invention, while explaining its genesis in American history. Or something like that.
9. The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail (Comedy Central). Hosted by Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani — and based on a live standup “event” they hosted from Los Angeles’ Nerdist Showroom at Meltdown Comics — this clever stand-up series is unrestrained by taste or logic. But the hosts are funny, so they are forgiven.
8. RocketJump: The Show (Hulu). A “rocket jump” is that visual effect that happens in a video game when you shoot a cannon, for example, and the shooter jumps at the same time. What does this have to do with the show? I haven’t a clue, but it’s a complete original. Freddie Wong and Matt Arnold enlist young filmmakers to make big-budget action scenes on very small budgets, resulting in surprisingly good scenes.
7. The Chris Gethard Show (Fusion). Chris Gethard hails from New Jersey and the Upright Citizens Brigade. He is funny and talented — also strange and neurotic, while his talk show is untethered to anything approaching logic, cohesion, tradition or structure. It’s impossible to describe — but terrific.
6. Fishcenter Live (Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim). “FC Live” is insane — as such, a perfect distillation of all that is Adult Swim. It is a talk show (hosts are Dave Bonawits, Andrew Choe, Matt Harrigan and Max Simonet), and also a competition show, while the stars are tropical fish, which drift around an aquarium tank. Any more description would suggest there’s an explanation for this — which there is not. But it’s (glub, glub) great.
5. Aerial America (Smithsonian Channel). There are lots of gems on the Smithsonian Channel, and this is one — a flyover of glorious iconic American countryside, from Alaska to Vermont. The narrative can tend to be bland, so a suggestion — turn the sound off and float happily away.
4. StarTalk (NatGeo). Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “StarTalk,” now in its second season, mind-melds science with pop culture. It’s lively and intelligent, the host a superstar of TV science, a brilliant guy too. (He’s director of the Hayden Planetarium, and much else.) And he’s host of the podcast of the same name — also well worth your time.
3. Steven Universe (Cartoon Network). The best animated show on TV? Don’t know the answer, but fans are deeply devoted to this, and I can see why — it’s smart and very well written, while the anime’s superb, as are the voice-overs. “Steven” is about humanoid aliens, the Crystal Gems, who live in some East Coast beach town.
2. Other Space (Yahoo). At least one requirement of any comedy show making this list is that it must be, on some fundamental level, utterly incomprehensible. We’ve got a winner here! A bonus: somewhat good production values. Also: It’s very funny. About the crew of the starship UMP Cruiser — captained by young Captain Stewart Lipinski (Karan Soni) — they’re exploring infinity, and beyond.
1. Difficult People (Hulu). Not for everyone. Maybe not for anyone. Except for me. This Julie Klausner creation — about deeply unlikeable New York standups — is hilarious; the show’s stars, including Klausner, Billy Eichner, Gabourey Sidibe (to name a few), likewise.